It took a lot of sweat but not a lot of money. Two years after it launched, the ink-stainedwretches.org campaign supporting local journalism accomplished significant outcomes. A total of 29 municipalities across Canada, housing over 13 million individuals (approximately one-third of the country’s population), passed resolutions in support of the campaign. Moreover, the achievements were recognized with a Gold Quill Award of Merit. All accomplished with a modest budget of around $750 USD ($1,000 CDN).
Like many projects in recent years, the campaign was sparked in 2020 by the global pandemic.
However, the news industry had already been in a decline for about a decade. As billions of advertising dollars each year fled from traditional outlets to giant online platforms (Google and Facebook), revenue for fact-based news-gathering organizations plunged. Between 2008 to 2018, roughly 250 news outlets serving nearly 200 communities across Canada had closed. The newsrooms that survived were starved.
The loss of being able to serve as the community’s watchdog and provide fact-based information was, and continues to be, a threat to our democracy. Recognizing the further diminishing impact the pandemic would have on traditional media outlets, a collective of around six former daily newspaper reporters, copy editors and new graphic artists came together under the banner of ink-stainedwretches.org. The name choice signifies a pejorative and a badge of honor, depending on one’s viewpoint.
From Tweet to Triumph
It was in a tweet by a local mayor, a plea to support local journalism, that we saw a glimmer of opportunity. We understood that our goal — to see a strong ecosystem for robust journalism in aid of democracy — would not be attainable through one short-term campaign. But if one mayor was voicing support for local journalism, maybe others would, too. We drafted a journalism support motion and set the objective, among others, to persuade eight local municipal councils to pass it.
One of the major reasons for our campaign success was crafting a motion that was easy for mayors and councilors to adopt, by not asking them to spend public money. We simply asked for vocal support and for councils to impress upon members of Parliament the crisis in the news sector and its dire implications for our democracy.
Selecting the name ink-stinedwretches.org served two purposes. First, it appeals to newsroom workers because it’s a term long used to describe print journalists. It’s also memorable — few can say “ink-stained wretches” without smiling.
Next, we established our credibility through a website and social media accounts. As an overwhelming number of politicians and journalists use Twitter, that was our primary social media tool. Research led us to frame our proposed resolution to councils in a way that would appeal to leaders’ sense of duty to all constituents.
In the proposed resolution’s preamble, we highlighted:
- The importance of journalism to democracy.
- The depth of crisis in the journalism sector.
- The trustworthiness of local reporting on the pandemic.
As a result, councilors had good reasons to pass the motion and few reasons to turn it down.
Energized by passage of the motion by our largest local council, we started asking former news workers in other municipalities to submit our resolution to their local councils.
Strategic Moves Garner Support
We reached out to a retired newspaper employee in Windsor, Ontario. He submitted our request to the city clerk who placed our proposed resolution on an upcoming council agenda. Then through Twitter, we encouraged Windsor councilors to support the motion.
After it passed, we tweeted our thanks to councilors and tagged Windsor-area members of Parliament (MPs). MPs are the elected leaders with the most power to effect relevant regulatory and legislative changes to ensure an ecosystem for a healthy news media. One MP tweeted an endorsement. Windsor forwarded the motion to a neighboring municipality whose council subsequently adopted it without being approached directly by our campaign.
Bargain Budget, Amplified Impact
Being a grassroots volunteer campaign, we expected the time commitment to be high but the financial needs to be low. We were right. Our volunteers donated about 1,200 hours of labor but spent less than $750 USD ($1,000 CDN) for web domain registration and website hosting.
What did we get for our money?
In addition to greatly exceeding our objective for eight councils to pass journalism support motions, we also established regular communication (via Twitter direct message) with the federal government minister whose portfolio included considering aid for news outlets. We also gained about 20 earned media stories and interviews.
Our work also led to collaborations with other advocacy groups and organizations including the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.
As we wound down this campaign, we launched a separate annual campaign to drum up civic recognition for UN World Press Freedom Day (3 May). For this campaign we are partnering with:
Tips for Gold Quill entrants
- Follow the entry guide for your category! They’re available on the Gold Quill resources web page.
- If your entry doesn’t receive an award, you might be eligible to refine the entry and submit it the following year. Review the evaluators’ comments. Maybe elements of your campaign fulfilled the criteria for a winning entry, but that wasn’t clearly demonstrated in your entry.
- And my tip to entrants and non-entrants alike — subscribe to a fact-based news-gathering outlet whether it’s a legacy or a startup outfit. Our democracy depends on it.
Mirko Petricevic CMP® is chief ink-stigator of ink-stainedwretches.org He has been an IABC Waterloo Chapter (Ontario, Canada) member since 2020. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Mirko Petricevic, CMP
Mirko Petricevic CMP® is chief ink-stigator of ink-stainedwretches.org He has been an IABC Waterloo Chapter (Ontario, Canada) member since 2020.